“Liberals, sadly” by Ramachandra Guha

I’m supposed to be on a self-imposed break from BP, but I came across this article by Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s most respected historians, published in today’s Indian Express.  Though I don’t agree with everything in the article (he very casually rejects an independent Kashmir, succumbing to standard Indian nationalism), there is one paragraph which is worth quoting:

I detest Hindutva majoritarianism as much as Mander does. The persecution and stigmatisation of Muslims by groups and leaders allied to the ruling BJP regime is deeply worrying. Because Hindus are in an overwhelming majority in India, their communalism is far more dangerous than Muslim communalism. At the same time, one should recognise that discrimination by caste and especially gender is pervasive among Muslims too. And regardless of their own personal faith, or lack thereof, liberals must consistently and continually uphold the values of freedom and equality. They must promote the interests of the individual against that of the community, and seek to base public policies on reason and rationality rather than on scripture. In this struggle, liberals must have the courage to take on both Hindu and Muslim communalists. To quote Dalwai one last time, the “real conflict in India today is between all types of obscurantism, dogmatism, revivalism, and traditionalism on one side and modern liberalism on the other”.

To me, this seems a sensible position. I would like to think that South Asian liberals (used loosely) can agree that majoritarianism is bad. Majoritarianism in India takes the form of Hindutva and people like Modi and Yogi.  In Pakistan, it takes the form of Islamism, either of the “soft” or “hard” variety.  For minorities in either country, this is no fun. Pakistan’s Hindus are Pakistani and should not be required to prove their loyalty to the State (see the essay I posted on “In search of Diwali in Lahore). Similarly, India’s Muslims are not “Pakistanis” and referring to them as such is obnoxious. There are politicians who do this and who refer to Muslim-dominated neighborhoods as “Little Pakistan”. There was also that remark during one of the earlier elections that “If we lose, they will burst firecrackers in Pakistan”. As a Pakistani, let me just say that no one in the country is super concerned about legislative elections in Bihar.

Feel free to discuss. Let’s try to keep the tone civil. I apologize again for my own contribution to taking offense easily.

P.S. I would personally not describe myself as a “liberal”.  I feel I am a moderate (though I do lean left of center). Conservatives have some good points regarding the importance of the family and of social institutions generally. It is fundamentalists who are the problem.


Guha’s whole Op-Ed can be found here:

Liberals, sadly

And the piece he is responding to is here:

Sonia, sadly


Bangladesh’s abiding love for the Taj Mahal should be a lesson for the new Mughal hating India

By Hugo Ribadeau Dumas on Scroll.in

Across the border, in Pakistan, the Taj has been at the centre of recurrent debates related to national identity. A few individuals who believe that the quintessence of Islamic architecture is represented in Nur Jahan’s mausoleum have suggested that India is not worthy of harbouring such splendour and that the people of Pakistan, as the natural inheritors of the Mughal Empire, could legitimately seek moral ownership over the Taj.

Apart from being historically questionable, this Pakistani-centric interpretation of cultural heritage is somewhat insulting to Bangladesh. East Bengal was also an important part of the Mughal Empire. In 1608, Dhaka – then known as Jahangirnagar – became the capital of the province of Bengal while Calcutta was nothing but a second-range town. Which is also why remnants of Mughal architecture are still visible in Bangladesh – two famous examples are Dhaka’s Lalbagh Fort and Sat Gambuj Mosque. Yet, on the whole, Mughal vestiges are scarce and in decrepit condition.

Given this relative vacuum, it could be speculated that honouring the beauty of the Taj Mahal (or at least trying to) may be a way for Bangladeshis to celebrate the role they played in the formidable Mughal saga. Besides, apart from a mere cultural dimension, the genuine Taj Mahal also has an evident religious connotation. Not only was it built by Muslim rulers, but its premises are still used to perform the namaz.

However, in reality, the interest of Bangladeshis in the monument seems largely irreligious and deprived of ideology. For instance, when asked why on earth the People’s Republic of Bangladesh would use the Taj Mahal to customise some of its official mugs, a senior official and proud owner of the item proposed a rather straightforward explanation – “Maybe simply because it looks nice?”

Note: The writer says that the Taj is Nur Jahan’s mausoleum. This is historically incorrect. It is actually Mumtaz Mahal’s mausoleum, built for her by her husband, Shah Jahan.

The whole article can be read here:



In Search of Diwali in Lahore

So since I have been accused of being some kind of “soft Islamist” or “anti-Hindu” (when all I really said was that I find the  Ramayana to not be very good literature), I am cross-posting this essay from The South Asian Idea.  For the record, I didn’t write this essay, but I was involved in the effort to celebrate Diwali at LUMS (something that the real “soft Islamists” at the university were not super happy about).   On a side note, I find myself in a very interesting position where I am too “anti-Hindu” for the Indians and too “pro-Hindu” for Pakistanis.  I’m like the dhobi ka kutta…

In any case, after this post, I will not be engaging in any further discussion on Hindu related matters.  I would also appreciate that the Hindu nationalists on this blog refrain from commenting on my posts. Thanks.

In Search of Diwali in Lahore

Diwali was on our minds. We were tossing around ideas on how to celebrate the first ever festival of lights on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. For some, it was too radical a proposition, for others something that just had to be done. It was in that context that a participant produced a newspaper clipping claiming there were only about 50 Hindus in Lahore and that some of them had celebrated Diwali at a private location for fear of being attacked.

“That’s just not true,” said a member of the team indignantly adjusting her hijab. Then and there, it was decided to locate a public celebration of Diwali in the city and to go ahead with our own event. The evening light was fading; the timing was right for lamps to be lit if they were going to be lit anywhere. A few phone calls identified three mandirs that might offer what we were looking for – in Model Town, on Ravi Road, and at Neela Gumbad, the latter two in some proximity to each other. We decided to head in their direction to maximize our chances.

Our guide suggested we take a rickshaw to the Ghazi Station on the Metrobus and ride it to Bhati Gate in the old city. There we were to ask for directions to either one of the two mandirs. We did as told and were informed with much confidence that there was a mandir close by and another some distance further off. Delighted, we boarded a rickshaw for the nearer one and were soon dropped off at the entrance to the lane headed towards the Badshahi mosque with a gesture that our destination was in the general direction. Having been there a number of times before, we all concluded simultaneously that the rickshaw driver had mistaken a gurdwara for a mandir.

Disappointed but undeterred, we engaged another rickshaw with instructions to take us to the other location that was now even further away. Much turning and twisting later, we were asked to disembark in front of a mandir that was in fact a church – the signboard said so quite plainly. We realized that the popular culture had erased the distinctions between mandirs, gurdwaras and girjas in Lahore.

Nonetheless, we were at Neela Gumbud and if there were a mandir there, we were determined to find it. Our best bet appeared to be a sleepy policeman with gun across his lap guarding the entrance to a narrow street. Sure enough he knew the location to a mandir and pointed us deeper into the lane while eyeing us with some suspicion.

The policeman, whose specific duty must have been to guard places of worship, turned out to be right. We found ourselves in front of a nondescript red gate which announced the entrance to the mandir. Another policeman frisked us and without much more hassle, we were past the gate.

Inside, Diwali was in full swing. Our protracted search had made us miss the puja but we were in time for the fireworks, the prasad and the music. There were certainly many more than 50 people in the compound and none of them looked afraid. Ominous, gun-toting policemen were stationed on adjacent roofs but that did not appear to cast any kind of shadow on the festivities.

To read the rest of the essay go here:

In Search of Diwali in Lahore


“Ranjha Ranjha Kardi Main” by Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali

I recently used this in my course as an example of Baba Bulleh Shah’s poetry. Here is a clip of Javed Bashir and Akbar Ali, two young Pakistani singers of Hindustani music, performing the Kafi “Ranjha Ranjha Kardi Main” on an Indian Punjabi TV show.  Note the extensive improvisations they do in what is essentially a simple melody. This shows the extent of their classical riaz.  

Javed and Akbar are the nephews of Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan, one of Pakistan’s most renowned Hindustani classical singers, and a follower of the Sham Chaurasi gharana.

The English translation of the Punjabi is as follows:

Repeating the name of Ranjha
I have become Ranjha myself.
O call me ye all “Dhido-Ranjha,”
let no one call me Heer .
Ranjha is in me, I am in Ranjha,
no other thought exists in my mind.
I am not, He alone is.
He alone is amusing himself.

Here is a write-up on Akbar Ali:



And here is another Kafi using the “Heer Ranjha” story “Main Naee Jana Kherain Day Naal”, when Heer tells her mother she is not going to go to her new in-laws, the Kheras.


Tribute to Mirza Ghalib- produced by Maqsood Ali and Taimur Rehman

I came across this video on Facebook and thought it was worth sharing (Sorry for non Urdu/Hindi speakers). The compositions he is singing are the same as those sung by Jagjit and Chitra Singh.  Poetry is by Mirza Ghalib of course.

A tribute to Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib: By Taimur Rehman & Maqsood Ali

A tribute to Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib: By Taimur Rehman & Maqsood AliDirection by: Sikandar UsmanVenue by: Sana KhanChai Paani by: NiazSpread the video if you like our humble effort!#Qasid #Ghalib #UrduAdab

Posted by Maqsood Ali on Thursday, March 1, 2018

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and his Contributions to Indo-Islamic Culture

Returning to our regularly scheduled program, I would like to discuss Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and his importance to Hindustani classical music and Indo-Muslim culture generally.  We are going out of sequence and discussing him in particular because he was mentioned in the comments on an earlier thread about “Turkic” culture.  In the next week or so, I will do a more general survey of Hindustani music starting from Bharata’s “Natya Shastra”  and then going on to the Muslim contribution in turning what was essentially temple music into “Darbar Sangeet” or High Art.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was the tenth and last Nawab of Awadh, ruling from 1847 to 1856.  The Nawabs of Awadh were originally of Persian origin, coming from Nishapur, Iran.  Wajid Ali Shah was a poet, playwright, dancer and great patron of the arts. He is credited with reviving Kathak as a major form of classical Indian dance (Wikipedia).

Wajid Ali Shah was a gifted composer of thumris, a light classical form of Hindustani music.  He wrote numerous compositions under the pseudonym “Akhtarpiya”.   He is also known for his pageants called “jogia jashan” , in which the king, his palace maids and subjects paraded as yogis. According to the website of the Sangeet Research Academy, Calcutta, “These presentations of Krishna-lore sowed the seeds of modern Hindustani theatre”.  During his reign, Lucknow became a magnetic cultural center, where the most reputed dancers, musicians and poets of the time flourished (Wikipedia).

I will conclude with two clips. The first is a scene from the movie “Shatranj ke Khilari” in which Wajid Ali Shah is shown watching a Kathak performance as his chief minister comes to tell him that the British will soon be annexing his kingdom. He advises the minister not to cry because “only music and poetry can bring a real man to tears”. (The scene starts at 0:30 and ends at 6:20 after the minister tells him “your exalted head is about to be deprived of your crown”.)

The second clip is Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s rendition of Wajid Ali Shah’s famous thumri “Babul Mora Naihar Chhoto Hi Jaaye” in Raga Bhairavi. Wajid Ali Shah wrote this thumri upon being exiled by the British to Calcutta. He uses the metaphor of the bride’s departure from her father’s home to express his own feelings at the loss of his beloved Lucknow. An English translation of the lyrics reads:

O My father! I’m leaving home.
O My father! I’m leaving home.

The four (palanquin) bearers lift my palanquin.
I’m leaving those who were my own.

Your courtyard is now like a mountain, and the threshold, a foreign country.
I leave your house, father, I am going to my beloved’s country.




Habib Jalib–A Tribute

Yesterday (March 12) was the death anniversary of Habib Jalib (1928-1993). Jalib was born Habib Ahmed in a village near Hoshiarpur, British India.  He migrated to Pakistan at Partition and worked as a proofreader for the “Daily Imroze” in Karachi.   “He was a progressive writer and soon started to grab the audience with his enthusiastic recitation of poetry.  He wrote in plain language, adopted a simple style and addressed common people and issues.  But the conviction behind his words, the music of his voice and his emotional energy coupled with the sensitivity of the sociopolitical context is what stirred the audience” (Wikipedia).

One of his most famous poems, “Dastoor”, was written in 1962 after Ayub Khan enforced his tailor-made constitution in the country.  A rough English translation reads:

The light which shines only in palaces

Burns up the joy of the people in the shadows
Derives its strength from others’ weakness
That kind of system,
like dawn without light
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
I am not afraid of execution,
Tell the world that I am the martyr
How can you frighten me with prison walls?
This overhanging doom,
this night of ignorance,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
“Flowers are budding on branches”, that’s what you say,
“Every cup overflows”, that’s what you say,
“Wounds are healing themselves”, that’s what you say,
These bare-faces lies,
this insult to the intelligence,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
For centuries you have all stolen our peace of mind
But your power over us is coming to an end
Why do you pretend you can cure pain?
Even if some claim that you’ve healed them,

I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept.

Continue reading “Habib Jalib–A Tribute”

Nankana Sahab and Gurudwara Janam Asthan

I was going to write a post on Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and his contributions to Hindustani Classical music and dance. But I’ve decided to take a detour for now. Perhaps I will return to Wajid Ali Shah later, or just incorporate him into my forthcoming survey of the history of Hindustani music.

I had the opportunity to take a day trip to Nankana Sahab yesterday (about 50 miles west of Lahore). My mother had some work in the District Hospital there.  Since my students had just written their assignments on Guru Nanak (along with Meerabai, Tulsidas and Surdas), my parents thought I might want to come along and see the city.  It was also a chance to see some of Pakistan outside the major metropolitan centers of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

Guru Nanak was born in Nankana Sahab in 1469 (the city was then known as Rai Bhoi di Talwandi). Since he was born in what is presently Pakistani territory, one can argue that he was a historical Pakistani. Of course, technically no one was Pakistani before August 1947- all four of my grandparents were born in British India, no matter which side of Wagah they happened to be on.  In any case, Guru Nanak is a major figure on both sides of Punjab and it is my opinion that Punjabi Muslims should be more comfortable claiming him as part of their heritage as well (they aren’t but that is a separate debate I’m not going into here). Continue reading “Nankana Sahab and Gurudwara Janam Asthan”

In historic first, a Thari Hindu woman has been elected to Pakistan’s Senate

Some positive developments coming out of Pakistan:

Image courtesy Firstpost Hindi


In a historic first, Thari Hindu woman Krishna Kumari was elected to the Senate on Saturday.

Kumari, a rights activist belonging to the Kohli community from the remote village of Dhana Gam in Nagarparkar, was selected as a candidate for a Senate seat by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Kumari was elected to a reserved seat for women from Sindh, along with Quratulain Marri.

“I feel delighted, this was unthinkable for me, to reach the Senate,” Kumari told The Associated Press.

“I will continue to work for the rights of the oppressed people, especially for the empowerment of women, their health and education,” she said.

Born on Feb 1, 1979, Kumari (lovingly called Kishoo Bai by her parents) had a tough childhood when she along with her family members and relatives were held for three years as bonded labour in a private jail allegedly owned by the landlord of Kunri of Umerkot district.

They were set free in a police raid on the farmland of their employer. She started her primary education initially from Talhi village of Umerkot district and then the Tando Kolachi area of Mirpurkhas district.

Her parents facilitated her and her brother Veerji’s studies and academic activities despite the hard days they had been facing.

She attributes her success to her parents, who encouraged her to pursue her education and eventually helped her to earn a university degree.

She was married off to Lal Chand, a student of the Sindh Agriculture Unive­rsity, Tandojam, in 1994, when she was 16 and a class IX student. She continued her studies after the marriage to get a postgraduate degree in sociology from the University of Sindh.




Introducing Kabir

Hi, I’m Kabir. I have been regularly commenting at BP for a while now and was honored when Zach asked me to become a contributor.  My review of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s book “The Sun That Rose From The Earth” was published here last month which was very exciting.

Some brief background on myself:  I am Pakistani-American.  I was born in Pakistan, but grew up and went to school mostly in suburban Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.  I have a B.A. degree in Dramatic Literature from George Washington University and a Minor in Western Classical Music.  I also had the chance to spend two of my undergraduate years at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) where I undertook coursework in Anthropology, Sociology and Political Philosophy. So one can say that I have a strong liberal arts background and bias.  This experience also gave me a chance to experience life in Pakistan first hand (rather than just visit my grandparents during the summers).

I have a deep love for Indian culture and roots in the UP as well as in Amritsar. I have studied Hindustani Classical Vocal from a young age and sing khayal, ghazals, and bhajans.  I have won several awards for my singing.  I am currently teaching an undergraduate survey course entitled “The Evolution of Music in South Asia” at LUMS.

At BP, I intend to write on art, literature and music.  I will leave “Islam” to others as I am by no means an expert on the topic.  My first real post will be a history of Hindustani music which I will hopefully get to write in a week or so once my students have gone on Spring Break.

I look forward to learning from everyone.